Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Art and Money, August 2008

I've been learning a lot lately and chewing over the topic raised by most artists at one time or another. This is my observation and I'm sure that it's not correct in every context. I am speaking about the art of painting here but I refer to other means of creating through my writing as well. I hope you find it interesting.

The value of art.

When you talk about value you have to talk about some empirical measurement system. That's the kind of world that we have lived in for centuries now. For convenience I'll compare value to money. The value of art of course, goes beyond money and is a different thing entirely. It is of the unspoken and unspeakable things that it's value often comes from. I won't discuss the spiritual value, social or energetic value of art here. Another time perhaps.

There is a direct correlation between art and money. As money continues to appear to have little value more money is being translated into rare and valuable things such as gold, minerals and ....art.

Art as we define it, in all it's forms and the more rare forms the better, has always had a value. An intangible value. When it becomes increasingly obvious that it is to become increasingly rare, such as on the death of a particular artist, then the value of the art increases greatly.

This has been the case with other things such as rare flowers, furs and spices. At one time salt was more valuable than gold, economic systems were based on tulips, people went to war for bread. Now those things are more plentiful and have less effect on the economics of the world.

Art has been a constant. Artists have created beautiful jewelry, paintings, sculptures and great effort has always been exercised by the wealthy, well educated and intelligent to acquire art and be in the presence of it, for all sorts of reasons. Beauty not being the least of them.

So what's happening today and how does this relate to art as we know it. Well, there has never been a shortage of people calling themselves artists. Nor a shortage of art itself in some form or another. Everyone can be an artist to some degree. So what makes one art more valuable than another.

The rarity is the key thing which makes the difference.

So what is rarity? Well some art is historical. The artist is attached to great events or great people and the works that the person produces are of not just artistic value but also historical value. Historic value can also be associated with social events.

A great artist, charged with the energy of a dramatic social event records it in their art of the moment and somehow captures the sense of what has passed. They act as a marker for the event and the energy is recorded for future generations to understand better the context of what has passed. They are like a meteorite that lands from space and tells us something of the structure and potential of a distant world.

Other rarity is based on skill. Someone so skilled as to be connected to another sort of intelligence, to a level never seen before, like an Olympic athlete or someone like Albert Einstein. The artist, like the scientist, leaves a trace behind them which effects many generations to come.

Each artist can only produce so many pieces of art in their lives. Not all artists works are great. Like many of Picasso's early pieces. But he worked to refine himself, as well as his art. That requires time, intelligence, insight and determination. Most people would give up long before they reached the same point, even if they could. Some people cannot give up, it is a matter of life or death for many.

These people as well as the art they produce are rare. It requires much work, isolation and introspection. It also requires a determined desire to learn in an area where much has been written about the end product and almost nothing about the process.

Rothco wrote a fascinating book on the process which is not intelligible to everyone. None the less it is a fascinating insight into his life and inspirations. His art is often hidden away in the collections of powerful companies and families.

So art is often used as a currency among the super rich. Not just any art. They seek art from people who have reached further and have not been equaled or who have been significant historical figures such as Peter Paul Reubens.

As money increasingly looses it's value and as gold and other rare minerals become less difficult to take out of the earth, those involved in finance can see the value of the things around them shrinking. They wonder where to put their wealth. Hence the increase in the value of art during times of coming economic depression. The art may loose it's monetary value during those times, as does everything that does not provide food, heating and shelter but when things recover the value of the art also recovers and grows, whereas other items such as tulips, salt, microchips and gold may decrease as things improve.

This leads to the subject of those that monitor and control which artists can enter the art worlds hallowed halls of approval. Why should there be art dealers who say that one artist is accepted and another not? Well there is the comparison between art dealers at the highest levels and financiers.

These same people have a lot of control over whose art is traded. They control the movement of art and issue their mark of approval just as someone assesses a mineral as a piece of gold or not.

These days with the loss of the special luxury goods market, due to mass production many are turning to art as an alternative status symbol as well as investment. However we are also seeing the presence of mass produced art. in the past art has often been the result of a team of artists work, such as on a large sculpture or a tapestry. Then it is finished by the artist who is accredited with having conceived the piece but today the artist attributed with the creation of the work, may not have even conceived the idea for the piece. So even art is being undermined in it's value by the use of mass production and the use of marketing to promote a false value.

Things are changing and hopefully it will come out well. It does beg the question. What is art really. It's not just about who says it's good or not. It's merely that some people, recognising that some items called art have a rarity and are sought after are using those same items for trade and profiting in the process.

They don't necessarily have to have any love, respect or understanding of art to do this. Merely to know which pieces are regarded as valuable and what their last sales price was, how rare they are relatively, etc. There is no love of creation in that. No respect for real values or protection of the process of art or artists. They bring art down to the level of a commodity. Hence the desire of some to take advantage and mass produce designs and forms, marketing them as a commodity but calling it art.

The current way of trading art has resulted in this distance from it's real value. It's like a collector of butterflies who no longer sees the animals or appreciates that they have given up their lives in being in the collectors display.

He may merely catalog their names and species while flaunting his collection over other collectors without appreciating any longer why he became a collector in the first place.

Perhaps we can learn to appreciate living artists, the work they do and their various species without destroying the thing we love, through over intellectualizing or coldly measuring their financial value.

Monday, August 11, 2008


It's been a while since I posted anything here. It's not that I've been living the quiet life. It's been very busy in fact but I haven't felt the inspiration to write anything.

I was in the Alps this summer for two weeks and apart from the influx of the tour de france cyclists and their adoring entourage it is a remarkably quiet place which is even more remarkably beautiful. Although the alps are breath taking in the winter, I find them to be even more beautiful during the summer.

While there I painted, as normal. This landscape is too beautiful to ignore. The towering mountains are awe inspiring and the sense of perspective that distance creates in that kind of landscape is a formidable challenge to capture on canvas. Fortunately my wife and her father took a couple of photos of me painting. I look at them and think, 'you need to get rid of the weight boyo'.

There's a great many wild flowers everywhere and thankfully lots of insects and wild bees pollinating them. The air is very clear here and in years to come I plan to spend several months drawing and documenting them.

While there, I worked on a commission and was lucky to have a studio where I could paint. Unfortunately I can't post any information on the painting for the moment for fear that the person whom it is intended for, might find out. The painting will be a surprise gift from the commissioner. It's taken a lot of time to just prepare the ground work for this painting and I'm glad to say that it seems to have been worth it. Despite that I still haven't done any colour on the actual canvas yet. I've been building up an underpainting with enormous attention to detail. At times it seemed to be too much of a challenge but after a visit to the Louvre where I examined other paintings done in the same manner I feel that I've made the right decision despite the enormous amount of time which it demands.

Here's a photo of me sketching the crowd at the tour de France.

Here's another of me taken by my wife who snuck up with her camera as I painted.